Commonwealth of Nations

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Commonwealth of Nations

Commonwealth of Nations, voluntary association of Great Britain and its dependencies, certain former British dependencies that are now sovereign states and their dependencies, and the associated states (states with full internal government but whose external relations are governed by Britain); Mozambique and Rwanda are the only members never to have been under British authority even in part. At its foundation under the Statute of Westminster (see Westminster, Statutes of) in 1931, the Commonwealth was composed of Great Britain, the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), Canada, Newfoundland (since 1949 part of Canada), Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Other sovereign members (with date of entry) are or have been: India (1947), Pakistan (1947), Sri Lanka (as Ceylon, 1948), Ghana (1957), Malaysia (as Federation of Malaya, 1957), Nigeria (1960), Cyprus (1961), Sierra Leone (1961), Tanzania (as Tanganyika, 1961), Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Uganda (1962), Kenya (1963), Malawi (1964), Zambia (1964), Malta (1964), The Gambia (1965), Singapore (1965), Guyana (1966), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Barbados (1966), Antigua and Barbuda (1967), Dominica (1967), Saint Kitts and Nevis (1967), Saint Lucia (1967), Nauru (1968), Mauritius (1968), Swaziland (1968), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1969), Samoa (1970), Tonga (1970), Bangladesh (1972), Bahamas (1973), Grenada (1974), Papua New Guinea (1975), Seychelles (1976), Solomon Islands (1978), Tuvalu (1978), Kiribati (1979), Vanuatu (1980), Zimbabwe (1980), Belize (1981), Brunei (1984), Maldives (1985), Namibia (1990), Cameroon (1995), Mozambique (1995), and Rwanda (2009). Ireland, South Africa, Pakistan, Fiji, Zimbabwe, The Gambia, and Maldives all withdrew at different times, but South Africa, Pakistan, Fiji, and The Gambia have rejoined. In addition, Nigeria's membership was suspended (1995–99) because of the country's human-rights abuses; Sierra Leone was suspended (1997–98) when it was under military rule; Pakistan was suspended (1999–2004) following a military coup and (2007–8) following the imposition of emergency rule; Zimbabwe was suspended for a year following the widely criticized presidential election of 2002, and when the suspension was extended in 2003, Zimbabwe withdrew; and Fiji has been suspended several times following coups, most recently from 2009 (partially suspended from 2006) to 2014.

The purpose of the Commonwealth is consultation and cooperation. The sovereign members retain full authority in all domestic and foreign affairs, although Britain generally enjoys a traditional position of leadership in certain matters of mutual interest. There are economic ties in the fields of trade, investment, and development programs for new nations. A set of trade agreements (begun at the Ottawa Conference in 1932) between Britain and the other members gave preferential tariff treatment to many raw materials and manufactured goods that the Commonwealth nations sell in Britain, but the system of preferential tariffs was abandoned after Britain's entry into the European Community (now the European Union) in 1973. Periodically there are meetings of Commonwealth heads of government, but no collective decision made at these meetings is considered binding. In 1965 a Commonwealth secretariat was established, with headquarters in London.

See also British Empire.

See J. D. B. Miller, The Commonwealth in the World (3d ed. 1965); N. Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969); W. R. Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East (1986); The Commonwealth Office Yearbook (annual, from 1987); R. J. Moore, Making the New Commonwealth (1987).

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